Great Friends and Great Cruise
Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
We traveled to Fort Lauderdale one day prior to our 2/21 cruise. Springhill Suites at Fort Lauderdale airport was a nice pre-cruise hotel. Beware of their complimentary transfers. They are handled independently and are rude and abrupt. Embarkation was a breeze, best of all 11 prior cruises. We were on board in less than 30 minutes. Had lunch on Lido and rooms were called promptly at 1:3pm. Lifeboat drill was quick and painless and we were soon underway.
VC cabins were very adequate. Two big drawers under the bed made unpacking very easy. Ship does have some wear but other than a little rust on balcony, everything else was spotless and extremely fresh. Cabin stewards introduced themselves immediately and addressed us by name every day. The staff on this ship is always smiling and friendly and you are made to feel "at home" for your entire cruise.
We were able to change to fixed late dining on our first night, in fact the maitre'd asked if we were interested in doing More
so.Seems most folks eat earlier than 7:45 and the dining room was never full. Bar staff was wonderful, ask for Walter in the Piano Bar and tell him Sir Bob says Hi. Randall is a great showman in the Piano Bar and we won two contests over the course of the cruise. Food was good, but not extraordinary.
This was our first HAL cruise and what impressed us the most was the attentiveness of the crew, the beautiful,fresh flowers everywhere, the lectures and port information and the lack of pressure to purchase drinks. Walter would seek us out just to ask if he could bring us ice water.
We also had one of our group injure himself in Aruba and when I asked at the gangway for help, the crew member who was handing our cool washcloths, proceeded to get us a wheelchair within two minutes. The infirmary staff even followed up to see how he was doing and allowed him to use their crutches for the remainder of the cruise. This personal attention will make us repeat HAL cruisers.
Our first port was Half Moon Cay and unfortunately it was cloudy and cool and although we swam, it was chilly and eventually did rain. We had the barbecue lunch and returned to the ship. A pretty island but not a pretty day.The other ports are reviewed in the port section. All in all this was a wonderful cruise, with great friends and lots of good memories,thanks to a slew of HAL employees. Less
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Cabin review: Zuiderdam Deluxe Verandah Oceanview Verandah 5149
VC5149 was a great cabin. It was near the aft elevators, which were convenient to the Vista Dining Room and Lido deck. A good walk to the theater and casino area, but we needed the exercise.
Port and Shore Excursions
We had a full day in Aruba and selected EL Tours. We were promptly met at the pier by Tony, who proved to be a great tour guide. We visited many of the customary tourist spots and a local park with Indian carvings in the rocks. Natural Bridge was a nice stop as well as the California lighthouse. Tony ended his tour by dropping some of us at Palm Beach (crowded) and returning some to the port for shopping. We spent the afternoon at the beach and Tony had informed us that the #10 bus stopped right in front of the beach for $1.50 it would return you to the pier. Aruba is a much more Americanized port, which we found to be much cleaner and felt safe venturing out on our own. Wish we had more time here.
Colon is the port you return to after excursions from the Panama Canal. The canal experience is truly a wonder. We spent a good deal of time on the bow, awaiting our turn through the locks and were amazed at the workings and precision of which this passage takes place. We were tendered from Gatun Lake and took the Embera Indian excursion from HAL. You can only take HAL excursions in Panama. We had 2 buses who convoyed to the canoe landing.The ride was very long (almost 2 hrs.each way) and the country is very poor and dirty. A Panamanian policeman was assigned to each bus and accompanied us the entire trip. There are even armed personnel at the toll both. We would not have felt safe without our "escort". The dugout canoe ride is very impressive and we disembarked at the village and were met by children dancing and playing hand carved instruments. The village is quite primitive and the chief speaks no English, so our guides interpreted for us. We were served tilapia and plantains in banana leaves and treated to several dances by the local children.There are beautiful hand crafted items to purchase (cash only) at one of the huts before the return trip. A real National Geographic experience, but a very long day.
Our itinerary was changed and we arrived in Curacao at 2pm, which caused a change in plans. We were going to Playa Porte Marie to snorkel,but instead did a 4 hour tour with Curacao-Actief, and had a great guide named Kim. She took us through town, passed the Jewish synagogue and then to Fort Nassau,followed by a drive in the country to a flamingo habitat, the salt ponds, an 18 century plantation and a small beach. We ended our day at Hook's Hut for dinner and sunset. Quite lovely and great food. Kim returned us to the ship before 9pm, and since everything closes (except the local casinos) at 6pm, we retreated to the ship. HAL needs to go back to original itinerary of Aruba first, then a full day in Curacao as the evening is really wasted. Overall a great tour but we were surprised by the trash and unkempt homes along our route.
We chose a private tour in Costa Rica with Oscar Brown Tours and all of us left knowing that this was our favorite port. Costa Rica is very tropical and we went to a banana plantation, a national park and a private plantation. The private plantation was amazing. Oscar and his assistant,Katherine, walked us through a very dense rain forest and we were treated to many wonderful sites and tastes. We were able to taste sugar cane,bananas, pineapple, 2 kinds of coconut, papaya and lemons. We learned about the "Pepto Bismol" tree, the "hackey" plant, the noni plant, the shampoo plant and many beautiful species of flowers, including ginger. The helper at the plantation climbed a tree and presented us with an adolescent sloth which we could pet and hold. We saw many birds and trees and left with an unbelievable appreciation of how Costa Ricans use their natural resources in many unique ways. We toured the Cahuita National Park and saw howler monkeys high up in the trees. We were then treated to an authentic lunch at a local restaurant. Oscar and Katherine helped us with the menu and Oscar shared his own water and beer with us. He was a friend of the owner. The food was great and although it was raining, the rain just added to the feeling of being in a rain forest. On our way back to the pier Oscar stopped at a local supermarket and Katherine helped us shop for local coffee, vanilla and tea. Prices were much less expensive then at the souvenir shops. We had a few minutes upon returning to the ship to shop for some local crafts and say goodbye to a wonderful country and a fabulous day with both our guides.